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12-31-04 Toll Roads May Be Wave of the Future

"We've got to get the Senate and the members of Congress to fight a little harder for those federal dollars," Smith said,….. does not sound like a Republican.  These same officials have opposed a gas tax increase.  It is “popular” to take these kinds of stands to persons not knowing the details of the situation.



December 30, 2004


Toll Roads May Be Wave of the Future


By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.


With increasing miles of maintenance, tremendous population growth and diminishing revenues, how can the GA DOT fund large capital improvements “in our lifetime”?  It is easy to criticize and yet not suggest viable alternatives.


Oconee’s Rep. Bob Smith got some “publicity mileage” out of his attempts in 1999 and 2000 in pushing for an upgrade of GA 316 and “now –not later”.   He was instrumental in getting area officials and state and federal officials together.   The joint vision statement of the three commission chairmen in February 2000 grew out of that effort.  However, all three commission chairman, and many of the other officials, are now gone.  Yet the road is still being “talked about”.

SEE GA 316 Joint Vision Statement of February 4, 2000:  http://avoc.info/info/article.php?article=2101&PHPSESSID=c6b99ad62ab83759fa81b1562c505178


In more recent years, Rep. Smith has gotten much “PR Mileage” out of criticizing the Toll Plan.   Statements like: "We've got to get the Senate and the members of Congress to fight a little harder for those federal dollars," Smith said,….. does not sound like a Republican.  These same officials have opposed a gas tax increase.  It is “popular” to take these kinds of stands to persons not knowing the details of the situation.


To stake one’s efforts on “more money from Washington” in times of War and record deficits is just plain demagogic.   The newspapers need to come up with a different subject than Rep. Smith’s polls and “Washington Money” if they want to see GA 316 be upgraded.


It will take leadership and cooperative effort to make progress.   Slick “P R” and media articles against something and passing the buck to Washington “just won’t cut it”!


The Gwinnett Daily Post



December 30, 2004


Toll plan would widen I-285, Ga. 400


By Dave Williams

LAWRENCEVILLE — The traffic-choked northern portions of Interstate 285 and Ga. Highway 400 would get a $.8 billion upgrade, including new toll lanes, under a proposal from a private consortium of road builders.

The plan, submitted to the state Department of Transportation this week, calls for widening Ga. 400 from its southern end in Atlanta north to Ga. Highway 20 in Forsyth County.

Tolls would be charged on most of the new lanes on Ga. 400 north of its interchange with I-285. Motorists already pay a toll to drive on the portion of Ga. 400 south of I-285.

In addition, two elevated toll lanes would be built in each direction along Interstate 285 between I-85 and I-75. However, only drivers of single-occupancy vehicles would have to pay the toll.

“We’re trying to change the behavior of people to get more carpooling,” said Jim Carroll, vice president of project development for Washington Group International, one of the four construction companies making up the consortium.

The “Crossroads 400” project is the third public-private highway construction plan submitted to the DOT since the General Assembly enacted a law last year allowing the state to consider unsolicited proposals from the private sector.

The State Transportation Board is due to vote next week on entering into a “commitment agreement” with another consortium to convert Ga. Highway 316 from Lawrenceville to Athens into a limited-access toll road. Washington Group also is involved in the Ga. 316 plan.

Another public-private project recently sent to the DOT calls for widening Interstate 75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties. That work also would be financed through tolls.

Funding highway improvements with toll revenue has drawn criticism from some elected officials, business leaders and the driving public since the Ga. 316 project was unveiled last January.
State Rep. Bob Smith, R-Watkinsville, polled his constituents in Clarke and Oconee counties and found strong opposition to tolls.

But DOT board Chairman David Doss said the state can’t build additional highway capacity fast enough to keep up with growth in metro Atlanta while relying on the second lowest state gasoline tax in the country.

“There’s a funding crisis of monumental proportions facing the DOT,” said Doss. “As long as the Legislature isn’t willing to give us any relief with the motor fuels tax, we can’t just sit around and not do anything.”

In all three projects, the companies are offering to complete the upgrades years faster than the state could. The widening of Ga. 400 could be finished in nine years, while it would take 11 years to complete the planned improvements to I-285, according to the proposal.

State transportation officials had expected a public-private project to be proposed for Ga. 400.
In fact, the DOT board voted two weeks ago to join the State Road and Tollway Authority in a feasibility study of charging tolls on Ga. 400 north of I-285 to pay for widening the highway.
But the I-285 portion of the proposal came as a surprise.

Carroll said the team developing the project discovered quickly that traffic flow on Ga. 400 could not be improved without addressing congestion on I-285
………The proposal calls for adding two lanes in each direction to Ga. 400 north of I-285. One of the lanes would be a toll lane, while the other would be free for high-occupancy vehicles.

A single toll-free HOV lane would be added in each direction on Ga. 400 from I-285 south to the southern end of the highway in Atlanta.

According to initial estimates, the tolls on Ga. 400 would be 15 cents per mile during peak periods and 10 cents a mile off peak.

That’s on a par with the Ga. 316 project,  which carries an estimated toll of up to 12 cents a mile.
“We’re trying to raise enough money on 400 to help with 285,” said Carroll
. “The (toll) lanes on 285 don’t pay for themselves.”

The proposal calls for a toll of 20 cents a mile along the 13 miles of elevated toll lanes on I-285.
The elevated lanes also could be used to accommodate bus-rapid transit service along I-285, according to the plan

The Athens Banner-Herald


December 30, 2004

Ga. 316 biggest concern for Oconee officials

Legislative priorities

By Mike D'Avria

WATKINSVILLE - Up-grades to Georgia Highway 316 is their biggest concern, and how to pay for those upgrades is the most important issue of the new year, Oconee County officials said Wednesday while discussing legislative issues with their state representative.

……..Commission, along with several other officials, sat down with state Rep. Bob Smith, R-Watkinsville, and agreed they are most concerned about upgrades to Ga. 316, and want to find a way to fund the project with federal funds and special tax districts - not just tolls………..

The officials all agreed that they need to seek some federal funds to help pay for improvements.

"We've got to get the Senate and the members of Congress to fight a little harder for those federal dollars," Smith said, adding that the commission needs to work with the Barrow and Gwinnett county commissions on the possible upgrade.

Smith also described how tax allocation districts could help pay for the upgrades, and reduce the toll rate. ……..